By Michael West
Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, America was captivated by a muddled notion of “etymology.” New England Transcendentalism was only one outcropping of a nationwide movement in which schoolmasters across small-town America taught students the roots of words in ways that dramatized religious issues and sparked wordplay.
Shaped by this ferment, our major romantic authors shared the sensibility that Friedrich Schlegel linked to punning and christened “romantic irony.” Notable punsters or etymologists all, they gleefully set up as sages, creating jocular masterpieces from their zest for oracular wordplay. Their search for a primal language lurking beneath all natural languages provided them with something like a secret language that encodes their meanings. To fathom their essentially comic masterpieces we must decipher it.
Interpreting Thoreau as an ironic moralist, satirist, and social critic rather than a nature-loving mystic, Transcendental Wordplay suggests that the major American Romantics shared a surprising conservatism. In this award-winning study, Professor West rescues the pun from critical contempt and allows readers to enjoy it as a serious form of American humor.
Michael West is a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of more than fifty articles on subjects ranging from Homer to Joyce. He has a particular interest in the Classical tradition, comedy, and satire. More info →
Save 20% ($47.96)
US and Canada only
Availability and price vary according to vendor.
Permission to reprint
Permission to photocopy or include in a course pack via Copyright Clearance Center
Without humor, the American West would be a vast territory of arid clichés — stolid cowboys and fearless lawmen, or, in more modern visions, dastardly land developers and fanatical environmentalists — all of them as lifeless as an alkalai flat.
The midwestern pastoral is a literary tradition of place and rural experience that celebrates an attachment to land that is mystical as well as practical. It is exemplified in the poetry, fiction, and essays of writers who express an informed love of the nature and regional landscapes of the Midwest.
America’s Sketchbook recaptures the drama of nineteenth-century American cultural life, placing at its center a genre—the literary sketch—more available than the novel, less governable by the critical establishment, and shot through with the tensions and types of local and national culture-making.
Though study of American Indian cultures had been fostered for several centuries by missionaries and explorers, it was not until he nineteenth century that a disciplined and systematic approach to the study of New World cultures began to emerge.
Sign up to be notified when new Literature titles come out.
We will only use your email address to notify you of new titles in the subject area(s) you follow. We will never share your information with third parties.